2010 Update on Stuffs (TFLs minus Sacks)

Perhaps the most fascinating and intellectually rich characteristics of American football is the constant cat-and-mouse game between opposing offensive and defensive play calling. One of the greatest compliments to retired FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews was the advent of the spread offense; Mickey’s aggressive man-to-man coverage, speed rush, and front 7 speed dominated college I-form offenses throughout the 90s and into the early turn of the new millennia. (See Bud Elliot’s tribute to Mickey here)

Football coaches at any level will give you the same pre-game coach speak: "If we can stop the run, we can stop their offense." And though archaic, the axiom holds true. Success in the ground game is a great way to alter pass coverage schemes and force defenses to devote coverages and personnel closer to the line of scrimmage. You can't rush 3 and drop 8 if you're getting gashed by the rushing game. 2nd and short to-goes give offensive coordinators carte blanche to open up the playbook - a failure gives you 3rd and short, a situation most offenses can get a 1st down on.

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[picture via Advanced NFL Stats]

The graphic to the left shows that the percentages of eventually achieving a 1st down come out to 70% vs. 50% under a 2nd-and-5 situation as compared to a 2nd-and-10. This makes sense. Notice, though, how the probability on 2nd down drops precipitously when the result of the previous play was negative (i.e., >10 yards to go). Most notably, the 1st down probabilities between 2nd and 10 vs 2nd and ~12 goes from 55% to 45%.

A defense can stop the run by controlling the point of attack (POA) - that is, winning the battle in the trenches. The defensive line doesn't have to win every one-on-one battle to be effective. Maintaining gap discipline means successfully occupying the spaces in between the offensive linemen and minimizing holes and openings for backs to scoot through.

Mickey Andrews featured a defense built for speed over size, hoping to generate pressure on QBs in passing downs, and overcoming the lack of size on defense by utilizing the speed of the front 7 through penetration and gang-tackling. Unfortunately, the 2009 defense featured a complete lack of a pass rush from the DE position, average DT play, and LBs and SSs who took bad angles, or got eaten up by blocking linemen that no longer had to focus solely on 1st-level blocks. In short, we lost the POA through a lack of size and technique - especially from our front 4.

Though showing some late season weariness, the front 4 play in 2010 was significantly better than last. The hiring of defensive end coach D.J. Eliot - combined with a rejuvenated O'Dell Haggins and a championship-caliber strength and conditioning program under Vic Viloria - produced a dramatic turn-around for the defense as a whole. Not only has FSU reversed the 2009 trend of huge rushing gains against, the pass rush has been extremely productive. Junior WDE Brandon Jenkins has shown technique, hustle, and a still-raw ability to win one-on-one battles versus opposing tackles. Jenkins finished the season 5th in the nation as well as 2nd in the ACC with 13.5 sacks in 14 games (Binford salute to manquake DaQuan Bowers). There are rumors that Jenkins is north of 270 right now, which would put him size-wise near that of Bowers in 2010. (Count me as skeptical, in general, on rumored pre-season weights.)

But what about FSU's rush defense? One could point to Tackles-for-Loss (TFLs) as an immediate gauge of defensive prowess. A TFL is defined as any tackle ending in negative yardage (arguably, 0 yard gains have been recorded as TFLs). However, according to NCAA stat keeping, a TFL includes Sacks in its calculation. As mentioned in many comments on this site, this is undoubtedly conflating two very different defensive results within a statistic unnecessarily. So let's unpack it.

Subtract sacks out from the TFL, and we're left with a stuff. Stuffs can be especially demoralizing - blockers on offense are attacking defenders on run plays. So you're getting your best mano y mano shot in as an offensive player on those plays. A negative play here is like getting uppercutted when you're about to land a hook.

In 2010, FBS teams averaged 49 stuffs per team, which comes out to just under 4 per game. But we know that any game can feature a unique number of plays, as well as a unique number of rushing plays an opponent might run at you.

Here are the national numbers for Stuffs per rush against. The table is oriented from highest percentage (~most frequent at stuffing the opposition's run plays) to lowest for 2010 (ACC teams highlighted). Running plays against (Opp.Runs) have sacks removed.

2010 Stuffs per rush against
  Team Opp.Runs Stuffs Stuffs.pP Rush.D.Rk
1 Kent State 399 66 16.54% 61
2 Miami (Ohio) 413 67 16.22% 75
3 Southern Mississippi 379 61 16.09% 53
4 Boston College 381 60 15.75% 2
5 Mississippi State 409 64 15.65% 10
6 Arizona State 418 65 15.55% 8
7 Auburn 413 64 15.50% 21
8 Miami (Florida) 510 78 15.29% 19
9 Oklahoma 467 69 14.78% 12
10 Boise State 413 61 14.77% 4
11 North Carolina State 391 57 14.58% 23
12 Clemson 451 65 14.41% 6
13 Oregon 441 63 14.29% 22
14 Northern Illinois 429 61 14.22% 69
15 USC 389 55 14.14% 49
16 Purdue 428 60 14.02% 43
17 Rutgers 425 59 13.88% 54
18 Illinois 411 57 13.87% 9
19 Vanderbilt 499 69 13.83% 47
20 Northwestern 450 62 13.78% 111
21 San Diego State 494 67 13.56% 52
22 Florida 460 62 13.48% 24
23 Nevada 394 53 13.45% 85
24 UCF 419 56 13.37% 41
25 Mississippi 382 51 13.35% 55
26 Ohio State 382 51 13.35% 7
27 Connecticut 451 60 13.30% 64
28 South Florida 439 58 13.21% 36
29 TCU 364 48 13.19% 17
30 South Carolina 426 56 13.15% 3
31 Minnesota 428 54 12.62% 67
32 Virginia Tech 430 54 12.56% 48
33 Memphis 455 57 12.53% 77
34 UAB 409 51 12.47% 95
35 Texas A&M 452 56 12.39% 14
36 Idaho 462 57 12.34% 98
37 Western Kentucky 415 51 12.29% 118
38 Florida International 442 54 12.22% 103
39 Maryland 452 55 12.17% 28
40 LSU 444 54 12.16% 37
41 Arkansas 487 59 12.11% 26
42 BYU 438 52 11.87% 33
43 Troy 448 53 11.83% 100
44 Fresno State 415 49 11.81% 78
45 Alabama 408 48 11.76% 11
46 Florida Atlantic 519 61 11.75% 87
47 Indiana 392 46 11.73% 72
48 Wake Forest 469 55 11.73% 96
49 Cincinnati 439 51 11.62% 58
50 Arizona 448 52 11.61% 15
51 Tennessee 448 52 11.61% 73
52 Tulsa 405 47 11.60% 51
53 Penn State 466 54 11.59% 34
54 West Virginia 365 42 11.51% 5
55 Utah 422 48 11.37% 1
56 Middle Tennessee 556 63 11.33% 107
57 Houston 505 57 11.29% 101
58 Virginia 461 52 11.28% 109
59 Georgia 488 55 11.27% 39
60 Kentucky 482 54 11.20% 94
61 Washington 502 56 11.16% 82
62 Louisville 433 48 11.09% 68
63 Western Michigan 433 48 11.09% 71
64 Louisiana-Lafayette 429 47 10.96% 91
65 Buffalo 487 53 10.88% 59
66 Wisconsin 400 43 10.75% 35
67 Oregon State 476 51 10.71% 29
68 Texas 448 48 10.71% 38
69 Michigan State 431 46 10.67% 31
70 California 404 43 10.64% 32
71 Washington State 452 48 10.62% 110
72 Texas Tech 484 51 10.54% 44
73 Missouri 447 46 10.29% 56
74 Marshall 419 43 10.26% 50
75 Syracuse 461 46 9.98% 60
76 Army 401 40 9.98% 90
77 Ohio 434 43 9.91% 97
78 Central Michigan 435 43 9.89% 92
79 Florida State 480 47 9.79% 40
80 Michigan 536 52 9.70% 86
81 Colorado 392 38 9.69% 30
82 Colorado State 458 44 9.61% 105
83 Notre Dame 439 42 9.57% 13
84 Pittsburgh 409 39 9.54% 62
85 Toledo 409 39 9.54% 83
86 Tulane 441 42 9.52% 116
87 Stanford 370 35 9.46% 20
88 Baylor 487 46 9.45% 93
89 UCLA 448 42 9.38% 70
90 Iowa 386 36 9.33% 18
91 Eastern Michigan 443 41 9.26% 114
92 Hawai'i 494 45 9.11% 45
93 East Carolina 538 49 9.11% 108
94 Akron 440 40 9.09% 63
95 Bowling Green 457 41 8.97% 112
96 Air Force 536 48 8.96% 79
97 Louisiana-Monroe 414 37 8.94% 81
98 San Jose State 497 44 8.85% 104
99 Ball State 453 40 8.83% 115
100 Kansas 478 42 8.79% 99
101 North Carolina 411 36 8.76% 27
102 Georgia Tech 472 41 8.69% 76
103 Louisiana Tech 454 39 8.59% 80
104 Iowa State 501 43 8.58% 66
105 Temple 435 37 8.51% 74
106 SMU 521 44 8.45% 42
107 Oklahoma State 470 39 8.30% 16
108 Duke 507 41 8.09% 65
109 Arkansas State 526 42 7.98% 89
110 New Mexico 556 44 7.91% 117
111 New Mexico State 418 33 7.89% 119
112 Utah State 426 33 7.75% 106
113 Kansas State 487 37 7.60% 84
114 UTEP 479 36 7.52% 120
115 Wyoming 518 38 7.34% 102
116 Navy 452 33 7.30% 57
117 North Texas 455 32 7.03% 88
118 UNLV 542 36 6.64% 113
119 Rice 411 24 5.84% 46
120 Nebraska 519 29 5.59% 25

When you think of stopping the run, you think of Kent State. Wait, what? Now the Miami (Ohio) defensive coordinator, Pete Rekstis dialed up a very strong defense. Consider this:

In 2010, Kent State ranked second in the country in tackles for loss (8.3), fifth in rushing defense (97.2), 11th in sacks (2.9) and 13th in total defense (306.7), setting a school record with 35 sacks. The Golden Flashes held two opponents to negative yards rushing.

Now we know the NCAA conflates the rushing defense yardage by not removing sacks from the total, but those are still quite the impressive numbers. Speaking of impressive, did Nebraska (#4 in S&P Pass D) just drop 11 on every play? Yet they have the number 1 ranked F/+ defensive in 2010, and a not-too-shabby #25 ranking in S&P Rush D. Go figure.

Boston College was the highest-ranked major program on the list. This isn't surprising. Intelligent FSU fans have long recognized that Coach Spaziani is an incredible defensive coach. In the recruiting mold of a Virginia Tech, Spaz gets guys locally that others may or may not know about. Coach Spaziani makes up for the lack of elite recruits (national 4* and 5* players), though, by outstandingly coaching a front 7 that play off each other in a system as well as any front 7 in CFB. And the adjusted defensive stats back that up. BC's 4-3 is text-book in the praxis of an interdependent front 7.

Miami, NC State, and Clemson (2, 3, and 4 in the ACC) also featured a unique ability to stop opponent rushes for a loss. Given each team's relative talent level and coaching, this shouldn't be too surprising. On a slightly unrelated note, Miami's entire starting defense should be gone (graduated or turning pro) by this upcoming season's conclusion.

I found it astounding that FSU was 9th in the conference and in the bottom-half of FBS teams, ahead of Coach Botched's UNC depleted squad, ne'er-do-wells Duke and heavily-rebuilding GT. Given FSU's massive improvement in adjusted defensive metrics (107th to 41st in D F/+), you would think that FSU's increased size and focus on stopping the run would have featured an increase in Stuffs per run against. Clearly, this was not the case. But we have to acknowledge that the Stuffs.pP conflates scheme-calls and overall 1-on-1 ability of the front 7.

If you remember back to the first time I wrote about stuffs, I showed how just before the bowl season UNC was 2nd in the nation, averaging almost 6 stuffs per game. It's a little disconcerting to think A) just how good UNC could have been in 2010 with Austin, Carter, and the other misfits and B) they may have shut us down here in Tallahassee.

2010 Stuffs Game Log
  Opponent TFL Sacks Stuffs Opp.Runs Stuffs.pP
1 Samford 10 4 6 34 17.65%
2 @ 6 Oklahoma 6 1 5 40 12.50%
3 Brigham Young 10 8 2 27 7.41%
4 Wake Forest 11 6 5 36 13.89%
5 @ Virginia 10 6 4 20 20.00%
6 @ Miami (Fla.) 5 1 4 35 11.43%
7 Boston College 7 4 3 29 10.34%
8 @ 25 North Carolina St. 5 3 2 50 4.00%
9 North Carolina 9 5 4 28 14.29%
10 Clemson 4 1 3 34 8.82%
11 @ 23 Maryland 5 2 3 32 9.38%
12 Florida 4 2 2 45 4.44%
13 + 16 Virginia Tech 5 3 2 40 5.00%
14 + 22 South Carolina 4 2 2 30 6.67%

I realize that Stuffs.pP can be conflated between a dominating front 4 vs. a defensive scheme that likes to run-blitz alot. But we know that FSU isn't much of a cover-0 team (though with our CBs, we probably could gamble a lot and win with that). Having said that, it appears that the game in Charlottesville was anything but sportsmanlike. Go watch the highlights again and see if you don't come away with your ears ringing, too.


 

Credit NC State for an excellent gameplan and execution against a front 4 that was starting to fade due to lack of quality depth. They utilized a lot of pro-style straight ahead runs, and FSU's snapcount - especially at the interior DL positions - started to show. Note that this will not be an issue for future 'Nole defenses (barring some horrendous luck). FSU actually would not finish with double-digit Stuffs.pP for the rest of the season, though the defense was obviously rejuvenated for the USCe bowl game.

Finally, here's an individual breakdown of the top Stuffers from the 2010 campaign.


2010 Individual Stuffs (FSU)
  Name Yr TFL Sacks Stuffs
1 Brandon Jenkins SO 21.5 13.5 8.0
2 Jacobbi McDaniel SO 5.5 0.5 5.0
3 Markus White SR 12.5 8.0 4.5
4 Demonte McAllister FR 7.0 3.0 4.0
5 Mister Alexander SR 5.5 1.5 4.0
6 Everett Dawkins SO 6.0 2.5 3.5
7 Nick Moody SO 4.0 0.5 3.5
8 Bjoern Werner FR 6.0 3.5 2.5
9 Xavier Rhodes FR 3.5 2.0 1.5
10 Anthony McCloud SO 3.0 2.0 1.0
11 Dan Hicks FR 3.0 2.0 1.0
12 Nigel Bradham JR 5.5 5.0 0.5
13 Telvin Smith FR 1.5 1.0 0.5
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